When a couple seeks counsel regarding the issue of parenting, it’s normal for their counselor to ask questions like, “How did your parents parent you? What were the good things you’ve strived to emulate? What were the bad things you promised yourself you’d never emulate?” Our natural avenue of learning parenting takes place in the growing up years, when our parents set us examples that, for better or worse, inform the ways we will one day parent.
As Christians who aim to glorify God, to reflect God to our children, it isn’t enough to simply follow the examples our earthly parents set us; we have a better example we’re called to follow. We have a Heavenly Father who is actively parenting us all day, every day, even in our adult lives. He is the one we look to, and from Him we find an example, we find instruction, and we find hope that motivates us to continue growing and changing as parents.
God the Father is a perfect parent to His children. He always parents us justly, rightly, never making a single mistake. He always loves us fully, unconditionally. Whether we are the wandering prodigal or the self-righteous brother, His grace is extended to us. Our well-being guides His heart, which is why He always draws us back into fellowship with Him when we’ve strayed. He disciplines us to help us grow and mature, to help us forsake sin, so that we can experience fullness of life and fullness of joy in Him. We can look to Scripture to see His example of parenting us, and we can look to our own experiences of life to see His example – how He has faithfully walked with us, faithfully pursued us every day of our lives. When you’re struggling to parent, consider how God is parenting you even in that moment. When you’re tempted to sinful anger with your kids, consider how God is being patient, kind, and tender hearted toward you in that moment. He is perfect, and He parents us perfectly.
Our Father gives us not only an example, but also instruction. In His goodness and grace He hasn’t left us on our own to figure this parenting thing out. He’s given a book full of counsel and guidance for us. We have practical instruction from Him like Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” We can also learn general doctrines from Scripture that have significant relevance in parenting. One example of this is the truth that God is sovereign and we are not. He is sovereign over the hearts of all mankind, even our children. We can’t change our children’s hearts, we can’t save them, so while we are responsible for loving, instructing, and disciplining our children, we are not responsible for how they respond to that love, instruction, and discipline. Such responsibility is a burden too great for us to bear, but God bears it with perfect strength and perfect wisdom.
This theme of God’s sovereignty over our children is one that can give us hope in the midst of parenting’s challenges. We all have ways to grow and change as parents, because none of us are perfect like our Heavenly Father. But often the most important ways we need growth are not in the specifics of parenting, but in the specifics of our relationship with God. Do we truly trust Him with our children? Do we trust Him to walk with us through the trials of parenting? Will He remain our greatest treasure, or will we fall into the idolatry of making our children top priority? These are questions we can all ask ourselves. When we seek to grow as children to our Father, we will also end up growing as parents to our children.
The gospel assures us that our primary identity is not found in being parents. Before our role as parents, we are first and foremost children of God. We are loved and accepted by God, not because of anything we’ve done, but because of what Christ has done for us. So our parenting mistakes and failures do not condemn us; we find grace, forgiveness, and renewed strength through Christ, and those gifts from our Heavenly Father motivate us to draw near to Him, to fix our eyes on Him, and they motivate us to parent in a way that reflects Him.